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How to Use Scribble Effects in Illustrator

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This post is part of a series called Guides to Illustrator Tools.
A Comprehensive Guide to the Pathfinder Panel Part 2 - Screencast
An Introduction to Illustrator's Color Tools

There are quite a few Illustrator tools that many of us have never used, which is understandable. We often have a workflow that we have found efficient and stick with it. Occasionally though, it's a good idea to crack open Illustrator and take a look at some of its underused features. Scribble effects are worth taking a look at because they're a quick way to add texture to your designs and a bit of personality.

The texture added is similar to the name of the effect (scribbles), but there is a great deal of variance you can control, and you can add a random feel as well. Let's take a close look at how to use this effect and how you can get creative with it!

Final Image Preview

Below is one of the designs from the final set of Photoshop Brushes we'll be working towards in this tutorial, after explaining how the Scribble Effect works in Illustrator. Want access to the full Vector Source files (and ABR brushes file), as well as downloadable copies of every tutorial, including this one? Join Vector Plus for just 9$ a month.

Tutorial Details

  • Program: Adobe Illustrator CS4
  • Program: Adobe Photoshop CS4
  • Difficulty: Beginner - Intermediate
  • Estimated Completion Time: 1 hour


In this tutorial we'll take a close look at every option within the Scribble Effect menu. Then I'll show you how to apply it to a rectangular design and a simple flower design. I'll even walk you through how to create a set of Photoshop brushes which use this effect.

Since the Scribble Effect can produce interesting textures, which can appear hand-made, it serves as an excellent tool to create an interesting stamp brush for Photoshop. I created a set of Scribble brushes using this method recently for Psd Plus, and you can see the results in this release Floral Scribble Photoshop Brushes - Psd Plus Pack.

Keep in mind there is a whole lot more you could potentially create using this effect. You could use the Scribble Effect to create hatch like patterns to shade your character designs, childlike scribbles, and more. The video tutorial Check out the Scribble effect in Illustrator from the Creative Suite Podcast showcases this tool and gives a few tips on possible uses such as Flash animations, which really broadens the scope of creative possibilities. This is one of those tools that once you open it up makes you want to play with it. The results even feel playful, so experiment away!

Illustrator CS4 comes with a set of Scribble Effects that you can open up and use, or just analyze. Notice that many of them have more than one scribble effect applied (as shown in the Appearance panel below). You can see there are two fills both with Scribble Effects applied here. You can open up these by going to Windows > Graphic Style Libraries > Scribble Effects.


Before looking at Scribble Effects it's a good idea to have an understanding of what Effects are in Illustrator, and the advantages they offer over using Filters. You should also have a basic understanding of what Appearances are and the options that the Appearance Palette offers.

There is an article called Working Most Effectively with Effects over at the Layers Magazine site. It even uses the Scribble Effect for many of the examples, and is a great article to read to understand effects before continuing on with this tutorial. Also, while limited, it would be a good idea to read what Illustrator help has to say on Creating a sketch using the Scribble effect. Now let's get started!

Section 1 - Exploring the Scribble Effect Options

In this section of the tutorial, we'll explore each option that the Scribble Effect offers and give visual examples that will demonstrate how to use these and make all the settings clear. After going through this quickly you'll understand how to use this tool fully - the settings will no longer be a mystery.

Step 1 - Global Installed Settings

First up, there are quite a few options under the Settings tab within Scribble Options. These are global settings, which are basically pre-made Scribble Settings. Getting started by taking a look at these settings is excellent. It shows a good diversity of options available and interesting scribble results. Take a look at all of them, note the changes of each option, various characteristics of each scribble, and be sure to check Preview so you can view them without needing to apply. Below are a few examples.


Step 2 - Angle

The angle option is simple to understand. It controls the angle of the scribble lines. Also, notice that whenever making a change to this, or the following options, that the Settings drop-down list changes from Default to Custom, which indicates you are creating a unique Scribble Effect at that point. Notice the change the angle has to the effect, as demonstrated in the examples below.


Step 3 - Path Overlap and Variation

Moving the Path Overlap slider towards the Inside moves the area the scribble effect is applied to further inside the shape (see first image below). Whereas, moving the slider toward the outside will apply the scribble lines past the shapes outer dimensions (see second image below). Path Overlap controls the amount the scribble lines stay within or extend beyond the path boundaries.

Applying the effect to the center keeps the effect applied to the outer edge of the shape, however increasing the variation means that the path will vary based on the amount you turn it up. Variation controls the lengths of the difference in scribble line lengths relative to each other. In the last example below the Variation is increased enough that it goes both inside and outside the shapes edge.


Step 4 - Line Options: Stroke Width

The stroke width functions in the way you would expect. It works in the same way as the stroke panel; it changes the scribble line width. Increasing or decreasing the size of the stroke will apply the change to the single long line that makes up the scribble effect. A few examples are shown below.


Step 5 - Curviness and Variation

Curviness manipulates the amount the scribble lines curve before they reverse direction. The first example below shows the default curviness, which is set relatively low, and the second shows the curviness turned up all the way.

The Curviness Variation controls how different the scribble line curves are relative to each other. Notice in the first image below how the lines look relatively the same, as Variation is set to 1 there; it looks clean. In the last example below variation is turned up all the way, and notice how different all the lines look compared to each other; it looks a bit messy.


Step 6 - Spacing and Variation

Spacing controls the amount of space between scribble line folds. Notice how extreme the spacing changes are by just increasing the Spacing slider from 5px to 24 px in the example below.

The Spacing Variation controls how different the amount of space is between scribble line folds. Notice how different the first and last images are in the example below. Turning the Variation up creates areas of differing spacing between each line - the spacing is no longer uniform.


Now Put it All Together

Putting it all together is all about experimentation. Now depending on the project, you may have a variety of outcomes you'd like to create. Below are a couple examples using multiple settings in combination, which also demonstrate how setting can work together and effect each other. In the first example below the spacing is decreased dramatically, which necessitates decreasing the stroke width as well, otherwise it would end up as a solid mass. The second example is just a random experiment.

You may also want to save some of these experiments as Graphic Styles, so you can use them again later. Once you've created a Scribble Effect that you like, drag it into the Graphic Styles palette, then click the arrow button in the palette's top-right corner and choose Save Graphic Style Library, which will add this as a new collection.


Section 2 - Applying Scribble Effects and Making Photoshop Brushes

In this section, we'll learn how to apply the Scribble Effects to a simple diagonal pattern made up of multiple rectangles of varying sizes. Then we'll create a small sample set of Photoshop brushes.

Step 1 - Create a New Document

Let's create a new Illustrator document (I'm using Illustrator CS4) at the size you want your maximum brush size to be at, which in this case will be 2500px by 2500px. Now create a basic rectangle filled with black and no stroke at a size of your preference, then create a handful of other randomly sized rectangles as well.


Step 2 - Rotating, Copying, and Arranging

Rotate these shapes by selecting the Rotate Tool (R), then hold down Shift to constrain and rotate 45 degrees as shown. Now copy the shapes and paste into a layer named "Rectangle_1." Continue to copy, paste, and arrange the shapes until you create a composition you like. You can also change the size of the rectangles or add more as needed. Keep in mind, you can always change this later on.


Step 3 - Experimenting with Scribble Effects

Now experiment with various scribble effects until you make one that you feel would be a good Photoshop brush. We're working with black in this tutorial, but Photoshop brushes can interpret a full grayscale, so keep that in mind with your own designs.

Below is a scribble effect I'm happy with to use for a set of brushes. Notice how the patterns interact with each other as they overlap, which is cool and you can experiment with that - even playing directionality of lines into each other. You could create moire effects this way for example. Here though we're keeping everything going straight at a 45 degree angle, as indicated in the screenshot of the Scribble settings.

Keep in mind, this is a live effect so we can manipulate the Scribble Effect at anytime. In order to manipulate this effect do so through the Appearance palette, as shown below. Don't go to Effect > Stylize > Scribble, as that will apply a second instance of a Scribble Effect to your shapes.


Step 4 - Create More Designs

Now create quite a few more designs of varying rectangle shapes. A good set of Photoshop brushes should have 15 or more designs that work together as a set visual, but are each distinct as well. For the purposes of this tutorial though, I'm just going to add a couple more, which are shown below. So, we'll be working with a set of three for this tutorial. I've placed these designs on new layers named "rectangles_2" and "rectangle_3" to keep things organized.


Step 4 - Turn These Designs into Photoshop Brushes

Now copy the "Rectangles_1" design, which has the live Scribble Effect applied to it. Fire up Photoshop (I'm using Photoshop CS4). Open a new Photoshop file (Command + N). Photoshop should automatically detect the size of the copied design, which should be a little smaller than 2500px by 2500px for this design, as the rectangles don't reach all the way to the layouts edges. Be sure to Name the file appropriately, in this case it's named "rectangle_1."


With this new Photoshop document open paste the "Rectangles_1" scribble design. A popup dialogue comes up. It's fine to choose Pixels in this case, then hit enter to apply the paste.


Now select the Brush Tool (B). Go up to the Brush Tools Settings at the top-left of Photoshop's interface. Click the drop-down arrow to open the Brush Preset Picker. Within the Picker there is a small arrow in the top-right corner. Click that and choose Preset Manager.

Within the Preset Manager brush area hit Command + A to select all the brushes, then click Delete. This will remove the brushes from the Brush Preset Picker, as shown in the last image below, but doesn't delete the ABR files of these brushes, as long as you have those files saved.


Now got to Edit > Define Brush Preset and save the brush as "Rectangle_1." Now we have our first brush created.


Go ahead and follow the same copy, paste, and define brush preset workflow to create the rest of your brushes. In this case, we're creating brushes: "Rectangle_2" and "Rectangle_3" as shown.


Step 5 - Export Your Final Photoshop Brush Set

Now click and open the Brush Preset Picker, then click the arrow in the top-right corner, and click Save Brushes as shown. Save the brushes with the name "rectangular_angled_brushes," which creates the ABR file. This file can be saved, given to friends, or sold, and loaded into any other Photoshop of the same version (CS4 in this case).


Information on Design Scalability

Keep in mind that when creating these types of brushes, they don't scale well, even though they are based on vector designs. They are used more like stamps in Photoshop. So if you design huge 2500px by 2500px brushes, then they are great for large-scale work, or for applying large textures, or big backgrounds.

If you want to create these brushes for smaller scale work, or smaller scale use, then you should create them in Illustrator at the scale you plan to use them at. If you need to use them at 600px by 600px size for example, then it's best to design at that size first in Illustrator.

You may think that you could create them big, export the EPS files and then scale to any size, but it doesn't work that way. This is because the brushes are made of lines, and when those lines get smaller they blend together and it drastically changes the character of the design, even in vector format, let alone as pixel brushes. The best solution is to plan the design at the size you will be exporting the brushes to.

Section 3 - Quick How to Create Floral Scribble Brushes

In this section, we'll take a quick look at the process I used to make Floral Scribble Photoshop Brushes - Psd Plus Pack. The actual brush creation is the same process, so we'll just review the vector techniques and Scribble Effects applied.

Step 1 - Create an Oval and Spin It

First of all create an oval that is about half the size of your document size. Use the Direct Selection tool to manipulate the shape of the oval to look more like a petal.

Now with the shape selected, grab the Rotate Tool (R), hold down Alt and click below the petal shape, which will open up the Rotate settings dialogue box.

Insert a degree to spin the petal. It's good to pick something divisible by 360, which is a full circle. Use 45 degrees, which will give use 8 petals total once competed. Now click OK. Go ahead and hit Command + D six more times to complete the floral shape creation. Select All (Command + A), then copy and paste, which will center the shape on the canvas, as long as you have your canvas centered. Go ahead and hold down Shift (to constrain the scale) while you have this shape selected, and scale the size to your preference.


Step 2 - Give the Flower an Organic Feel

Use the Direct Selection Tool to manipulate the points and handles of each flower. You may also want to scale and move them around a bit using the Selection Tool. The goal here is to give each petal more of an organic feel and to finalize the floral shape. You can see I made quite a few changes to the final flower design.


Step 3 - Apply the Scribble Effect

Go ahead and apply the Scribble Effect to the flower design using the settings shown below, or choose your own settings. The final Scribble Flower is shown below.

Now you can apply the same process to create more floral patterns, or use other floral designs as the base to apply the Scribble Effect to. Once you have a good size collection, go ahead and apply the same steps as in Section 2 to make a set of brushes.



Armed with knowledge of how Scribble Effects work in Illustrator, jump in and make your own effects. Have fun applying these effects to your vector creations. It's an interesting tool to play with and a quick way to add texture. Also, for your Photoshop work, don't be shy to create your own brushes. As demonstrated, the process is really simple.

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